PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Josh Shapiro plans to propose new incentives for workers in education, public safety and public health in his first budget address.
Since the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the country has faced critical staffing shortages in front-line professions, including teachers, nurses and police officers.
Shapiro, in his first budget address on Tuesday, is set to propose a tax credit for Pennsylvanians who acquire a license or certification in these fields, or for individuals in these fields who move to the Keystone State with Pennsylvania-recognized credentials.
They would be eligible for a refundable tax credit of up to $2,500 a year over three years.
Nearly 15,000 Pennsylvanians receive a license or certification in one of these fields every year, according to the governor’s office. Shapiro expects this new program, pending approval from the Legislature, would benefit roughly that amount of people annually.
The proposal would invest $24.7 million in job recruitment efforts to attract — and retain — licensed workers certified in these careers.
“No nurse should be compelled to work a double shift, or no cops should be pressured to walk the beat alone, and no kid should be crammed into an overstuffed classroom,” Shapiro said live on KYW Newsradio Friday morning. “We want you here in Pennsylvania. The commonwealth is going to put our money where our mouth is and have your back.”
A 2022 survey by the National Education Association labor union found 55% of U.S. educators said they are considering leaving their jobs earlier than planned. And, there are roughly 360,000 fewer people working in public education than before the pandemic, according to August 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Shapiro said he will announce in his budget a “down payment on the kind of progress we need to make” to address Pennsylvania’s school funding system, which a state Commonwealth Court judge recently ruled was unconstitutional.
The judge’s ruling indicated more state funding was necessary but left it to the governor and General Assembly to work out how much.
Republicans may challenge it, but if the ruling stands, this would require a complete overhaul that is expected to take years and estimated billions of dollars. In the meantime, many children will continue going to school in crumbling buildings — like Building 21 high school in West Oak Lane, which had to move to virtual learning this week after inspectors found asbestos in the facility.
“Every child in Pennsylvania should have access to a high-quality education, a safe and healthy learning environment, regardless of their ZIP code,” he said on KYW.
While Philly Democrats want to see a $3 billion boost — which was recently announced by state Sen. Vincent Hughes and School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington — the governor didn’t mention a specific number.
Nursing and policing
Police departments and health care facilities across the country have experienced similar shortages. According to the governor’s office, 1 in 4 nursing jobs in Pennsylvania are unfilled, and about 1,200 municipal police officer positions are vacant across the commonwealth.
Burnout among health care workers took effect early on in the pandemic. According to U.S. News and World Report, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed registered nurses between 25 to 34 years old — the highest share of the profession by age group — dropped 5.2% from May 2020 and 2021.
In Pennsylvania, the concentration of registered nurses decreased nearly 2% from 2020 to 2021.
According to a 2022 national survey by the Police Executive Research Forum nonprofit organization, police retirements rose by about 24% between 2019 and 2021. There were also about 43% more resignations in 2021 compared to 2019.
In Philadelphia, hundreds of police positions remain unfilled. Mayor Jim Kenney gave his final budget address on Thursday, during which he announced millions more in the budget to recruit and retain officers.
Last month, the governor said he will not allow Pennsylvania to execute any inmates while he is in office and called on state lawmakers to repeal the death penalty.
While he openly supported the death penalty as Pennsylvania’s attorney general, he said the support started to change.
“Ultimately for me, this was a matter of conscience,” he said on KYW. “I struggled to look my own child in the eye and answer the question about why is it OK to kill someone as a punishment for them killing someone else. And I struggled with this, and ultimately I changed my position. I respect the fact that there are people who disagree with that, but that is my position.”
Even for murder cases, like the recent shooting death of Temple University Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald, Shapiro said he “fundamentally believes” that the commonwealth should “not be in the business of putting people to death.”
“Our death penalty has not been employed in this commonwealth in more than two decades,” he noted. “That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be punished for the crimes they commit. As attorney general, I’ve put people behind bars for the rest of their lives — exactly where I believe the killer of Officer Fitzgerald deserves to go.”
No new taxes
Joining KYW live Friday morning, Shapiro also said his first budget will propose tax cuts, not increases.
“In fact, we’ll be proposing some tax cuts in this budget,” he added. “All I can say to you is stay tuned.”